These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Blogging Between Classes

Posted on October 2, 2013 by The Director of Digital Media

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From my blog:

1146677_10202043347232043_1312202315_nPost College learning is incomparable to undergrad. It’s not even a question. If I were to sum up my undergrad formalized learning experience in one word, honestly, I would use coasting. I kind of floated through my classes, tried just hard enough to make it by, and instead focused my efforts on things outside of the classroom. I could sit in the back of class, on my laptop, working on everything besides what the teacher was discussing. I focused much more on the street-smarts learning that takes place in college than on the textbook based learning. I learned how to market by advertising for Hillel events, I learned how to manage my time when I was working five part-time jobs, I learned how to cook, to do my own laundry, to mop a floor and all of those important things that you learn when you live on your own for the first time. My serious commitment was not to formal education.

I was always going to graduate from college. (We can talk about the repercussions of a bold statement like that and what it means to be a middle-class White American Jew at another time – that’s a different conversation all together.) With that being said, it wasn’t a choice to go to college, but more that it was just the next step on my journey. Once I had that “out of the way,” and I had the freedom to make a decision about what I was going to do next, it was a much more intentional step. I consciously decided to dedicate a year to learning, in Israel, about my people, about my traditions, about my nation, about MYSELF. And any kid can tell you, when you decide to do something, it means a lot more than when someone else decides it for you. I took out a loan to be here, I dropped my life to come here, I left things behind to be here and I’m not going to waste a minute of my time here and diminish the sacrifices that I made.

I don’t want to hit the snooze button because I want to be in class before it starts. I don’t want to go out for drinks because I want to stay in the Beit Midrash (the study hall/house of learning) until late into the night. I don’t want to miss a single word. It’s such a different emotional experience to approach the classroom like this. Although eager, I’m becoming emotionally drained. I want to remember everything my teachers are saying, every source that I read, and find a way to make it applicable.

Over sukkot, we created a bundle of four different species of plants and shook them all around. (We can flush that out a little more if you’re interested in doing so.) One of the interpretations of the reasoning behind the choice to use these four species is that each plant represents a different kind of Jew.

From Judaism 101, The etrog, which has both a pleasing taste and a pleasing scent, represents Jews who have achieved both knowledge of Torah and performance of mitzvot. The palm branch, which produces tasty fruit, but has no scent, represents Jews who have knowledge of Torah but are lacking in mitzvot. The myrtle leaf, which has a strong scent but no taste, represents Jews who perform mitzvot but have little knowledge of Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor scent, represents Jews who have no knowledge of Torah and do not perform the mitzvot.

I could sit in class all day, pouring over ancient texts, commentaries, opinions and discussions and I could leave it behind. At the end of the day, I could put everything into my locker and leave Pardes in the building. How easy would it be to be the Palm branch? How easy would it be to study morality and not let it affect my life? But is that really what I cam here to do? Not at all.

I came here to be the etrog. I came here to soak in the tradition of my people and make sure that history was implemented in my future. At the end of the day, my mind is reeling, trying to find the perfect way to create a correlation between what I learned in class and the practice of my life.

Learning Torah is emotionally draining. Not Organic Chemistry, which leaves you boggled and defeated and you ultimately give up on. Torah, which leaves you boggled, yearning for more, with the desire to continue trying until it resonates with you. With me. With us.